THE END OF PLENTY: The Race to Feed a Crowded World
Author: Joel K. Bourne, Jr
Published by: Scribe, Melbourne, 2015, 416pp, $35.
In 1798, with the world's population hovering at around one billion, English political economist Thomas Malthus wrote a fateful essay. Entitled An Essay on the Principle of Population, it argued that humanity faced a grim future unless we put in place measures to control our population. His logic was simple: if left unchecked, the human population would grow far faster than our food production, leading to misery, famine and war. The methods Malthus proposed to control the world's population were equally simple: poor people should delay marriage and remain celibate until they married; and governments should roll back programmes to support the poor, lest they incentivise the poor to have more children.
Over 200 years later, with the world's population sitting at between seven and eight billion, Malthus's voice has found a modern echo in Joel Bournes End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World. The language and the research methods have been updated, but the argument is pretty much the same: there are too many people on this planet, and it is the world's poor who should bear the burden of changing that.
Bourne is well meaning and thorough. His writing comes up to greet you and take you on a vivid journey across the globe. As a National Geographic journalist, he has interviewed farmers, food scientists, activists, professors and policy-makers. The people you meet on End of Plenty's pages--from agriculturalists to aquafarmers, and from investors to philanthropists--are interesting and interested, engaged and engaging. Bourne is an author who has travelled the world, spent time with farmers and on the land he writes about, and done a good job of analysing issues around food politics and production.
However, his laudable efforts to outline the world's food production problems do little to mask the fact that his prescriptions are as simplistic and misguided as Malthus's conclusions in the late 18th century.
The End of Plenty is rightly based on the premise that the agricultural revolution(s) of the 1980s and even 1990s are coming to an end, just as the consuming patterns of the developing countries in the south combined with already high consumption of the north require more food for fuel and fodder, placing strain on the Earth's resources and climate. But his solution to this troubling pattern is not (for example) to suggest...